The Unsung Genius Behind George Harrison's Slide Playing

January 27, 2023 3 min read

The Unsung Genius Behind George Harrison's Slide Playing

The mention of slide guitar usually conjures up the name of certain masters, from Duane Allman, to Derek Trucks, to modern virtuosos such as Joey Landreth and Ariel Posen. However, it’s a shame that George Harrison doesn’t get his due more often in the discussion.

While mostly absent in the Beatles’ music, much of George’s solo and guest work features him playing slide guitar, having originally picked it up while on a short tour with Delaney and Bonnie in 1969. He also eschewed many slide clichés, avoiding typical blues and pentatonic licks and opting for a more melodic style of playing. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights of George’s slide playing.

Day After Day - Badfinger (1971)

Badfinger had a direct association with the Beatles, having been signed to Apple Records, and recording songs written by the Beatles (such as the Paul McCartney penned “Come And Get It”). “Day After Day” was produced by George Harrison, who also played the melodic hooks during the song on slide guitar. George goes for a simple melody with some glissando flourishes on certain notes, all while keeping things in tune (one thing to note about George is that his intonation was incredibly accurate). It was all certainly enough to give the song a very singable hook, keeping it present during the solo section as well. The harmonized slide lines and fills during the song’s latter half are also standouts without being obtrusive.

My Sweet Lord - George Harrison

This is arguably the song that introduced the world to Harrison’s slide playing. After the Beatles ended, it was Harrison that became a songwriting force to be reckoned with, his abilities now being on par with the Lennon-McCartney partnership as proven on his first solo record All Things Must Pass. The song “My Sweet Lord” was the first single and demonstrated the prototypical Harrison slide lick heard in the intro and solo sections. The doubled line is simple and melodic, while the harmonized bits in the second half come at you as a pleasant surprise. It also demonstrates Harrison’s phrasing on the instrument, opting for varied note lengths and articulations, rather than sustained notes that most slide players may go for.

Handle with Care - The Travelling Wilburys

A supergroup certainly deserving of the moniker, this song was supposed to live as a B-side or a solo single. Producer Jeff Lynne and the record company convinced him otherwise, however, and this song became the first single of the first album by the Wilburys. As always, Harrison’s phrasing and melodic sense shine on the track’s solos, with playing that would remind the listener of Derek Trucks’ playing. However, this is no flash and fury in what is played, with the solo just complimenting the song perfectly.

Free As A Bird - The Beatles

The Anthology project of the 1990s gave something fans had been hoping for years: new music from the Beatles, with John Lennon on vocals. “Free As A Bird” was one of two songs that the surviving members (with producer Jeff Lynne) worked on for the series and is probably the more Beatle-esque of the two (the other being “Real Love”). Right out of the gate, listeners are treated to a gorgeous and sparse slide solo from George, highlighting his phrasing and intonation to great effect. George also lets his hair down a bit during the solo, playing a series of soaring, overdriven lines punctuated with fantastic vibrato.

Any Road - George Harrison

George’s final solo album Brainwashed was released in 2002, a year after George’s death from cancer. “Any Road” was the first single released from the record and it really highlights another side of his slide playing. For this song, he really lets his foot on the gas, playing lick after lick between the vocals, all with impeccable intonation and feel. If George ever succumbed to the cliché licks, it’s here, but played with such joy that the listener doesn’t care (likely he didn’t either).

So here are just some of the great examples of George’s slide playing. There are many others in his catalogue, all worth seeking out. For those who want to try their hand at slide playing, check out our slide collection and get practicing!

By Kevin Daoust -

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